December 17, 2008

A Little Bonhoeffer Today

A column by Dick Staub sent out by the Episcopal news service Caused me to read a little Bohoeffer today. I was reading "Letters and Papers from Prison" written by Dietrich Bohoeffer from a German prison camp in 1943-1945.

On November 21, 1943 Bonhoeffer wrote: Life in a prison cell may well be compared to Advent; one waits, hopes, and does this, that, or the other - things that are really of no consequence - the door is shut, and can be opened only from the outside.

On December 17, 1943 Bonhoeffer wrote of Christmas: From the Christian point of view there is no special problem about Christmas in a prison cell. For many people in this building it will probably be a more sincere and genuine occasion than in places where nothing but the name is kept. That misery, suffering, poverty, loneliness, helplessness, and guilt mean something quite different in the eyes of God from what they mean in the judgment of man, that God will approach where men turn away, that Christ was born in a stable because there was no room for him in the inn - these are things that a prisoner can understand better than other people; for him they really are glad tidings, and that faith gives him a part in the communion of saints, a Christian fellowship breaking the bounds of time and space and reducing the months of confinement here to insignificance.

As Staub writes:

Bonhoeffer's hope was set against the backdrop of grim reality. What Bonhoeffer believed about his era could equally be said of ours. "Surely there has never been a generation in the course of human history with so little ground under its feet as our own."

Bonhoeffer saw that the moral relativism of his age, the abandonment of divine law, a loss of conscience, a blind allegiance to reason, government and education as the path to societal improvement -- all these had lulled the German population into the moral complacency that Hitler exploited.

Because he believed society's unraveling is born of spiritual rebellion, Bonhoeffer's hope for societal transformation required restoring personal moral character. He believed with the Apostle Paul that "suffering produces perseverance; perseverance character; and character, hope."

Bonhoeffer's advocacy of costly discipleship left him no choice but to stand on principle. "The responsible man," he wrote, "seeks to make his whole life a response to the question and call of God." His faith shaped his character, and his character shaped his destiny.

Bonhoeffer's hope was rooted in the Christmas story. (read the entire article by Dick Staub)